Showing posts with label Liz Ledden. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Liz Ledden. Show all posts

Saturday, 3 November 2018

The Centre of my Everything

The Centre of my Everything by Allayne Webster (Penguin Random House)
PB RRP $19.99   ISBN 9780143783336

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The Centre of my Everything is a distinctly Australian, gritty YA novel set in the regional town of Mildura. Told in the alternating points of view of four main characters, Justin, Tara, Corey and Margo, it’s about the intertwining lives of the teens, plus their families, too.

Justin has just returned to town post-rehab and is trying to move on from his drug-addicted past. Corey is a school drop-out struggling with employment, Tara feels unloved by her mother and has a bad girl reputation, while Indigenous character Margo is intelligent and headstrong, with a plan to escape the stifling confines of her small town environment for uni in the city.

The novel opens with Corey extremely hungover, and piecing together the events of the night before – a destructive, drunken high school party, culminating in digging up bones at the local cemetery. This event drives the plot forward and links the characters in a way you never see coming, providing a gripping read.

Often confronting, the story deals with themes including binge drinking, violence and sexual assault, so it’s one for older teens and up. The writing is truly compelling, the plot tightly woven, and the voices of each character feel authentic, raw and real. 

Webster has captured the essence of teen drinking culture in a lower social economic, regional Australian environment, yet manages to infuse heart and hope.

Wednesday, 1 August 2018

Buzz Words Achievers

Well done to Maura Finn whose picture book Rose's Red Boots is short-listed for the 2018 Speech Pathology Awards.

Congratulations to Virginia Lowe who has been made a CBCA Honorary Life Member (for services to children’s books). Certainly, well deserved!

Good news for Mary-Ellen Quirk  whose manuscript Jellyfish Blues, judged by Lisa Berryman, Children’s Publisher at HarperCollins Publishers  won the Category 6 in the Young Adults competition run by CYA.

Someone else who did very well in the CYA competition was Liz Ledden who took out two second places in the picture book categories, hooray! If you want to see the full sheet of winners, check out

Well done to Josh Reid who has recently published Mackenzie Tanaya and the Faerie Key, an adventure serial novel for children. Target range 7 - 12 years. Told in monthly episodes, the sixth installment in this series has now been released, published by Fernhill Clockwork Story Factory, Wollongong, Australia. This story, centred around 10-year-old Mackenzie Tanaya, is a compelling adventure series which teaches children to become strong, brave and courageous. Frequent themes throughout the episodes include: making good friend choices, choosing which adults to trust, being brave enough to do the right thing. 

Each episode of the children's serial novel is written and illustrated by Josh Reid, who wrote the book for his daughter. Reid paints half a dozen original paintings for each monthly publication, which are published in full-colour A5 paperback. The novel series is ongoing and Reid estimates there will be about 30 episodes.

The monthly publications are available from selected retailers including The Comic Cafe in Wollongong, and Fairy Meadow Post Office. The first 3 episodes are also available digitally as Amazon Kindle e-books.

Saturday, 12 May 2018

The Adventures of Jellybean by Bill Condon and Dianne Bates (UQP)
PB RRP $14.95
ISBN 978070226000
Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The Adventures of Jellybean is a junior fiction novel about two great friends, Rory and Trang, united in a quest for the ultimate sounding pet – a goat.

All things goat features quite heavily throughout. Jellybean’s story effortlessly weaves in interesting facts about goats, potentially fuelling young readers desires for a pet goat of their own! After much preparation and anticipation from the boys, Jellybean arrives, but she causes a little more trouble than they imagined. However, with the comfort of Bitsa the dog and a whole lot of love, Jellybean’s story is a heartwarming one.

In addition, the friendship between Rory and Trang is truly endearing. Contrasts between their families and backgrounds (sausages on the barbeque at Rory’s versus Trang’s grandma’s pho) offers a wonderful depiction of multicultural Australia and the joy of embracing other’s differences. There are a several ups and downs within the friendship; however it’s strong enough to overcome any perceived slights – a realistic depiction of friendship dynamics for the primary school set. The inclusion of four-year-old Luna, Rory’s little sister, adds a lovable young female character to the cast, and as in real life, the young characters interact not only with their peers, but family members and neighbours of all ages.

This would make a wonderful book for newly emerged readers to tackle; those just moving beyond shorter chapter books, perhaps aged six to eight. The story has a classic, innocent type feel likely to not date the book in a few years’ time.

Thursday, 15 March 2018


Missing by Sue Whiting (Walker Books Australia) PB RRP $17.99
ISBN 781760650032

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

‘In the dead of the night we run away.’ From the very beginning of new middle grade mystery Missing by Sue Whiting, we’re drawn into 12-year-old Mackenzie’s plight. Her bat biologist mother is missing – last seen on a field trip in Panama. And now, Mackenzie and her father are boarding a plane to try and find her.

The clever structure of this story sees each chapter veering between ‘Now’ and ‘Then’ as Mackenzie puts together the pieces of what may have happened. Mackenzie’s inner journey is one of denial and determination as she clings to the idea that her mother might still may be alive.

The writing is tight and compelling, with a strong and relatable voice in Mackenzie. The real places in the story, from the southern Sydney suburbs to the streets of Panama, are vividly brought to life. As you hurtle towards the end of the story (and yes, this is a book you’ll want to devour in one go), the tension and emotions intensify until the stunning final scene.

Based on the startling statistic that nearly 38,000 people are reported missing each year in Australia, Missing is a heartbreaking yet hope-filled exploration of the ones left behind.

Tuesday, 31 October 2017

The Book of Secrets: An Ateban Cipher Novel

The Book of Secrets: An Ateban Cipher Novel by A.L. Tait (Lothian/Hachette)
PB RRP $14.99  ISBN 9780734417671
Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The Book of Secrets is the first book in A.L. Tait’s new Ateban Cipher series. It follows on from her popular Mapmaker Chronicles books, appealing to a similar middle grade audience of around 9 to 12 years old.

The story begins with an intriguing premise. Protagonist Gabe, who has lived in an abbey his whole life after he’s delivered to its doorstep as a baby, is handed a precious manuscript by the mysteriously wounded Brother Benedict. He’s given strict instructions to deliver the coded book to ‘Aidan’, and to guard it with his life.

So begins a thrilling, fast-paced adventure as Gabe bravely ventures beyond the abbey’s walls, and encounters a strong-willed group of girls with agendas of their own. Gwyn, Merry and co. battle gender stereotypes and help position this series as one for everyone.

Tait builds a believable and evocative middle ages world, rich in historical detail – think dungeons, danger, archery and royal double-crossings. The introduction of Eddie to the cast of characters around the halfway mark elevates the stakes even more. High on energy, The Book of Secrets is a compelling read with twists and turns to keep you guessing, and sets up a whole new exciting adventure for the next installment.

Wednesday, 23 August 2017

The Scared Book

The Scared Book written by Debra Tidball, illustrated by Kim Siew (Lothian/Hachette)
HB RRP $24.99    ISBN 9780734417497
Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The Scared Book is a fun, interactive picture book for pre-schoolers. The book itself is scared to continue telling the story after introducing a cast of monsters. It needs the reader’s help to scare them away!

Each spread offers a chance to get physically involved with the story, from rubbing goosebumps to fanning bad smells. Suspense is built via the persistent monsters popping up again and again, vibrantly brought to life by Kim Siew, a talented artist and muralist also known as Akisiew. Fortunately, the monsters are far too cute to be truly scary, so be assured even the youngest of readers won’t be freaked out by the monster factor! Tidball’s text is used to clever effect regarding pacing, for example suggesting a moment to calm down while tracing a spiral. The ending empowers the reader, and will no doubt create demand for repeat reads.

This is an energetic story designed to immerse kids in the world of stories, and perhaps inspire them to create their own. The eye-catching, tactile cover and fun use of fonts to convey emotion top off the reading experience.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Hello to You, Moon

Hello to You, Moon written by Sally Morgan, illustrated by Sonny & Biddy (Little Hare Books) HB RRP $24.99  ISBN 9781760125462

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

A poetic, rhythmical counting book (but so much more), Morgan’s Hello to You, Moon examines the various creatures which swing, prowl, leap and scurry under the light of the moon.

Each creature featured salutes the moon in their own way, from hooting owls to roaring lions. Each spread progresses from one to ten with an accompanying animal family, as the moon journeys from twilight through midnight to the brightening sky of the following day.

This would make a brilliant bedtime story for babies through to pre-schoolers, with much to engage, including rhyme, action and animal noises. Sonny and Biddy’s graphic illustrations with an overarching purple palette are the perfect, vibrant accompaniment to the text.

Saturday, 24 June 2017

Once Upon an ABC

Once Upon an ABC written by Sophie Masson, illustrated by Christopher Nielsen (Little Hare Books) HB RRP $24.99 ISBN 9781760128432

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Sophie Masson’s Once Upon an ABC is a stunning ode to folk and fairytales. For every letter of the alphabet is a character from stories past, ranging from the highly recognisable to the more obscure.

There’s Rapunzel and Jack in the Beanstalk, the wily old wolf from Little Red Riding Hood (as G for Grandma, of course!). The Ugly Duckling and Puss in Boots make an appearance, as do mythological creatures such as a Pegasus and Nymph. Certain inclusions may leave readers scratching their heads – Y for Yggdrasil, anyone? However, ensuing discussion and bookish research may open young readers’ eyes to a whole new world of stories and characters they weren’t otherwise familiar with.

Told in an engaging rhyme, this is an ABC with a difference – a collectible homage to legendary tales. Nielsen’s illustrations pop with primary colours and have a timeless, retro style. The endpapers are a typography-lovers’ delight.

Friday, 23 June 2017

One Little Goat

One Little Goat written by Ursula Dubosarsky, illustrated by Andrew Joyner (Little Hare Books) HB RRP $24.99  ISBN 9781742976921

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

‘My daddy bought a little baby goat, a little baby goat my daddy bought’ begins this cumulative tale with echoes of There was an old lady who swallowed a fly. A cat eats the goat, who is bitten by a dog, who is hit by a stick and so and so on, as the tale becomes increasingly more mayhem-filled. The repetition as the story builds has a musical quality, and would have children repeating along in no time.

The ridiculous antics of the characters are humorously depicted via Joyner’s cartoon-like illustrations, full of action and with very expressive faces throughout. Even the suggestions of violence (think chopping and burning!) are reduced to nothing more than frivolity with Joyner’s clever touch. After a fun turn of events where a tall, dark stranger is revealed for who it really is, the chaos subsides until the story comes to a satisfying, full-circle conclusion.

There is a real old-fashioned, nursery rhyme feel to this story, as it is based on a traditional Hebrew song dating back to the 17th century. The words retain a timeless feel, while the illustrations bring a contemporary sensibility.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Clare’s Goodbye

Clare’s Goodbye written by Libby Gleeson, illustrated by Anna Pignataro (Little Hare Books) HB RRP $24.99  ISBN 9781760127527

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Clare and her siblings Rosie and Jacob are about to move house. Rosie and Jacob insist on saying goodbye to everything, from their tree-house to the place their pet bunny is buried, but Clare refuses to participate. Clare’s sadness is apparent in her silence, as well as through Pignataro’s touching, charcoal illustrations, like the image of Clare with her back turned as the removalists cart their furniture away.

It’s hard not to feel for her – the youngest child, and the least likely to process a big change. The stark emptiness of the rooms highlights the finality of the move, and allows Clare to bid farewell in her own, special way. The illustrations convey a childlike innocence and evoke much emotion, with a moody grey palette tinged with colour reflecting the poignancy of the story.

This is a touching tale about the difficulties faced in saying goodbye and moving on, and the importance of allowing little ones the space and time to cope with change.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

The Secret Science of Magic

The Secret Science of Magic by Melissa Keil (Hardie Grant Egmont)
PB RRP $19.99   ISBN 9781760127763

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

The Secret Science of Magic is Melissa Keil’s third YA novel. A contemporary love story with an over-arching nerdy feel (in the best possible way), it is about Sophia, a maths genius with an eidetic memory, and Joshua, a magic-trick loving, self-confessed slacker. Told via both points of view (see the handy silhouettes at the top of each chapter), we are soon immersed in their inner-most thoughts and fears.

Sophia applies maths and science to all aspects of her life – there’s a theory for everything. However, when it comes to feelings, and magic, it becomes apparent that logic and order can’t figure everything out. Joshua feels a little aimless as the end of high school is rapidly approaching, but one thing is for sure – his feelings for Sophia. Both characters are complex, intelligent and endearing in their own ways, though I did find myself with a softer spot for Josh.

A strength of the story is the dialogue – snappy, sarcastic, funny and super smart, and peppered with pop culture references. The sibling relationships felt very real, as did Sophia’s friendship journey with BFF Elsie. Joshua’s little sister Gillian, sassy and wise beyond her years, was particularly hilarious.

This is a fabulous, engaging YA novel with unique characters, much heart and a love story you really hope happens, despite Joshua’s reiteration that in life, and in magic, timing is everything.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Beaky Malone: World’s Greatest Liar

Beaky Malone: World’s Greatest Liar written by Barry Hutchison, illustrated by Katie Abey (Little Tiger Press) PB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781847156730

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Beaky Malone is a self-confessed Olympic-level liar. He tells so many crazy lies he drives his family completely mad, particularly his sister, Jodie.

On a road trip with extended family and ever-present dog Destructo, Beaky’s lies are bigger and more elaborate than ever. Just when Jodie reaches breaking point, she and Beaky are sent out in search of fish and chips. Instead, they come across the mysterious Madame Shirley’s Marvellous Emporium of Peculiarities, home to the world’s only truth-telling machine. After Beaky’s shoved inside, it and *gasp* it actually works, Beaky can tell nothing but the truth. At this point, the story really ramps up the fun factor, with Beaky revealing everything from gross personal habits to his canteen lady crush.

This is a super fun read for mid to older primary school aged readers who appreciate a bit of sarcasm, and will understand references to Instagram and the like. The outrageous truth-telling capers don’t stop at the end of the book though – a second title in the middle grade series is due out in January.

Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Wilderness: An interactive atlas of animals

Wilderness: An interactive atlas of animals written by Hannah Pang, illustrated by Jenny Wren (Little Tiger Press) HB RRP $29.99
ISBN 9781848575066

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

A beautifully presented, hardcover non-fiction book, Wilderness provides a fact-filled overview of the world’s animals, perfect for readers aged five to eight.

The book is divided by habitat, from ‘On Safari’ and ‘Sea Search’ to ‘High Mountains’ and more. The book is illustration-heavy and interactive, with pop-ups and lots of flaps to lift, revealing fascinating facts about quirky animals and diverse eco-systems. A particularly fun spread is ‘Trek to the Poles’, with animals from the Arctic at the top, and those from the Antarctic upside down at the bottom, encouraging readers to flip the book around.

While the book is broad in its overview, a unique aspect is its focus on lesser-known creatures. From the pale-throated sloth to the red-lipped batfish, kids will delight in discovering the world’s animals beyond the usual suspects. The book would make a great gift, and would also be a handy resource for school projects.

Monday, 16 January 2017

Making Up

Making Up by Jan Ormerod, illustrated by Freya Blackwood (Little Hare Books) HB RRP $14.99
ISBN 9781760128999

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Making Up is a short board book consisting of a tale extracted from Ormerod and Blackwood’s picture book Maudie & Bear.

Feisty Maudie takes offence when Bear laughs at her dancing. Bear explains he is laughing with her rather than at her; however, Maudie is quite a strong-willed little character and doesn’t accept this. Bear is gentle yet persistent in attempting to coax Maudie out of her bedroom and make amends, until he finally comes up with an idea to bring them back together.

The contrast between petulant Maudie and patient Bear captures the irrational moments of the toddler and preschool years. It also suggests the endless love of a parent or carer, even in the face of difficult behaviour. Maudie is a flawed and very real character, who reflects the emotional highs and lows experienced by the two to five year old set, the book’s target market. Blackwood’s gentle illustrations capture the moods evoked in the story beautifully.

Other books in the series include The Bike Ride, with further titles to come in 2017.

Thursday, 12 January 2017

Blue Sky, Yellow Kite

Blue Sky, Yellow Kite written by Janet A. Holmes, illustrated by Jonathan Bentley (Little Hare Books) HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781760124229

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Daisy spots a yellow kite dancing in the sky. She ventures over a hill to discover it belongs to a boy called William. The two meet, and William teaches Daisy how to fly his kite. Daisy runs and runs with it, and ‘She does not look back once’.

This beautifully illustrated picture book contains an intriguing premise of taking something that’s not yours, and the emotional fallout. The reader is taken on a journey from the depths of Daisy’s despair to joy in the final scene. Friendship, forgiveness and owning up to your mistakes are all cleverly conveyed. Scenes portraying Daisy’s guilty feelings are suitably darker in colour, and then brighten as she attempts to convey her remorse to William.

The story has quite a unique feel – taking something that’s not yours (whether accidental or not) is a childhood experience I’ve not often seen touched upon in picture books.

As a bonus, Blue Sky, Yellow Kite contains a colour print of one of Bentley’s beautiful scenes of Daisy and the kite, wild in the wind.

Thursday, 24 November 2016

Ginger Green Play Date Queen: The Only Friend

Ginger Green Play Date Queen: The Only Friend written by Kim Kane, illustrated by John Davis (Hardie Grant Egmont) PB RRP $9.99 ISBN 9781760127855

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Ginger Green Play Date Queen is a fabulous new chapter book series starring a cute little fox. In each book, Ginger has a play date with a different friend, overcoming inevitable challenges and conflict along the way.

In The Only Friend, Ginger Green invites her friend Maya over to play. Problems arise when Ginger’s big sister Violet takes a liking to Maya and wants to play too. When the jealousy escalates and Ginger storms off, all seems lost – until Ginger comes up with an idea so everyone is included.

The story explores jealousy, anger, problem-solving and appreciating different types of families. While Ginger is sometimes annoyed by her bossy big sister and her little sister Penny (who, adorably, insists on being ‘nude’), Maya points out that as an only child, she doesn’t have instant playmates like Ginger does. Ultimately, the books celebrate compromise and friendship.

Super short and with only three chapters, the Ginger Green Play Date Queen series offers a wonderful introduction to the world of chapter books for newly independent readers, with lots of repetition throughout. That the illustrations depict the characters as little foxes (which isn’t mentioned in the text) adds a charming point of difference.

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Billie B Brown’s Animal Hospital Adventure

Billie B Brown’s Animal Hospital Adventure by Sally Rippin, illustrated by Alisa Coburn (Hardie Grant Egmont) HB RRP $19.99
ISBN 9781760126902
Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Billie B Brown is back in another dynamic adventure for the 4 to 6 year old set. This time, Billie arrives at preschool with a hurt knee. Teacher Simon quickly diverts her attention to a sick teddy, spurring Billie and sidekick Jack into action. They pile into their cardboard ambulance, which morphs into a real one in a puff of coloured clouds, transporting them to an animal hospital.

The action ramps up as a series of animals are brought into the hospital, where Billie is the doctor and Jack is the nurse. Billie rewards each one for their bravery during their treatments, and receives gratitude in return. When her own bandage falls off, Billie feels overwhelmed, until she has her signature ‘super dooper idea’ – she can make a bandage herself. 

Overcoming obstacles, taking charge of situations and being brave are the key themes contained within a fun story, where Billie’s imagination comes to life.

The Billie B Brown ‘Adventure’ series is so beautifully presented, with their hardcovers, unusual size (mid-way between a chapter book and picture book), and vibrant illustrations. This one is sure to have major child appeal, with its cast of animal characters and reassuring ending.

Monday, 31 October 2016

Molly & Mae

Molly & Mae written by Danny Parker, illustrated by Freya Blackwood (Little Hare Books) HB RRP $24.99
ISBN 9781742975276

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

Off the back of their recent collaboration, Perfect, comes another beautiful picture book from Danny Parker and Freya Blackwood. Molly & Mae is a tale of a friendship that unfolds over the course of a train journey.

Molly and Mae first meet on a train platform, where they giggle, play and delight in each other’s company. They continue to bond on a beautiful spread that chronicles a timetable of events (8.45 Sherbet, 9.05 Secrets), cementing their friendship as the ‘forever’ kind.

On board the train, we see their friendship deepen, then boredom sets in. Eventually, things go wrong. The clever use of train signage in the illustrations helps to chart their journey. For example, when Molly and Mae identify each other’s faults, there’s a ‘Signal Failure’ sign in the background. The sign pointing to a ‘Bridge’ indicates a resolution.

The text reflects the emotional ups and downs of any relationship – ‘There were hills and valleys and bends and straight runs, bridges and tunnels’. Molly and Mae’s journey is highly relatable, and offers a reflection on navigating differences, resolving problems, accepting others and strengthening bonds. Blackwood’s signature illustration style is perfectly suited to the story, with its muted pastels and expressive portrayals of the characters.

Friday, 30 September 2016

The Glorumptious Worlds of Roald Dahl

The Glorumptious Worlds of Roald Dahl written by Stella Caldwell, illustrated by Quentin Blake (Carlton Books)
HB RRP $29.99
ISBN 9781783122158

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

2016 is shaping up to be the year of all things Roald Dahl. It is 100 years since Dahl’s birth and the year the BFG movie was released, among other initiatives from stage shows to re-released books.

A large, hard-covered keepsake, the Glorumptious Worlds of Roald Dahl is a scrapbook of sorts. It is divided into chapters for each of his best-known titles, and full of interesting extras for fans young and old to pour over. There are anecdotes about Dahl and his quirks sprinkled throughout, too. For example, did you know he kept a piece of his own hipbone in his writing hut, post-operation? Or that he ate a bar of chocolate every day with his lunch, and added the foil wrapper to a ball that gradually grew bigger? Perhaps envisaging a certain chocolate factory at the same time?!

The book is written by an English literature scholar, Stella Caldwell, whose amassed facts, letters, overviews and excerpts provide fabulous snapshots of Dahl’s beloved books. An official book authorised by the Roald Dahl estate, the illustrations by Quentin Blake mark its authenticity.

The pages have a thick, matte feel evoking quality and longevity. There’s lots of fun extra features, too, like fold-out flaps and little booklets (like ‘A Spotter’s Guide to the Man-Eating Giants of Giant Country). There’s even an inspiring letter from Dahl himself folded inside an envelope, a little touch of magic for young readers.

This is a wonderful companion title to add to any Dahl enthusiast’s collection, and would make a wonderful gift.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

They All Saw a Cat

They All Saw a Cat written and illustrated by Brendan Wenzel (Chronicle Books) HB RRP $29.99
ISBN 9781452150130

Reviewed by Liz Ledden

This is author/illustrator Brendan Wenzel’s debut picture book, and it’s made a major splash - think a bidding war, a New York Times bestseller list spot (in the picture books top 10), and rave reviews from all over.

A cat ‘walked through the world’, and is viewed very differently by the animals (and child) it encounters. A fascinating exploration of perception, it reveals through vibrant illustrations the way in which creatures like a bird, a bee, a mouse and a flea view the cat. We see a terrifying demon-like cat through the eyes of the mouse, and an endless forest of cat hair via the flea. The wildly different takes on the cat opens up ideas around how we see others, how they might view us, and how everyone’s unique experiences shape the way they see the world.

Rhythm and repetition are used to great effect, and the illustrations are nothing short of stunning. The cover, with its effective use of white space and simple yet striking cat image (with a glossy contrast) is pure picture book eye candy. The text is deceptively simple at times, with layers of meaning able to be extracted and contemplated, the greater the age of the reader. A captivating book destined to become a classic.